There’s some sort of horse race happening this Saturday, which means it’s time for fancy hats and lots and lots of bourbon. The mint julep is the classic Derby Day cocktail, and we’ve got three simple variations for you. Use a good bourbon in these guys, as it’s the star ingredient; we like Buffalo Trace.
For two of these cocktails, crushed ice is key. But if your freezer doesn’t have a built-in ice crusher, or you don’t have a powerful blender, don’t worry; it’s simple. Take a clean kitchen towel. Fill it with ice. Whack repeatedly with a hammer, a mallet—whatever you have on hand. Making drinks for a party? Let everyone take a few whacks.
Easy: Spiked Sweet Tea
So this isn’t technically a julep, but juleps aren’t the simplest drink to make for a big crowd. If you’re trying to keep a whole party in good drink, you’ll need a pitcher sipper instead. This one is inspired by classic Southern sweet tea, with the standard julep elements of bourbon and mint. Careful: This guy goes down easy.
Instructions: Ahead of time, brew some strong black tea with 24 ounces of water and 4 teabags. Let it cool. In a pitcher with ice, stir it with 6 ounces of bourbon, 2 ounces of fresh lemon juice and 4 ounces of simple syrup (sugar dissolved in an equal amount of water). Take 30 clean mint leaves; slap them across your hand a few times to release their essential oils. Drop ’em in and stir. Garnish each glass with more mint sprigs and lemon wheels. Try not to drink the whole pitcher at once.
Intermediate: Mint Julep
Classic cocktails are classic for a reason: They’re hard to improve upon. But making them right is all about the details.
Instructions: To a julep cup or rocks glass, add 8 to 10 mint leaves and ¼ ounce of simple syrup. Gently—key word, gently—press the mint with a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon. (You’re not trying to smash up the mint, just massage it a little.) Add another ¼ ounce of simple syrup, along with 2 ounces of bourbon. Pile crushed ice into the glass and form it into a mound. Take a mint sprig, slap it against your hand to release its oils, and use it as a garnish. Stick a short straw into the glass and serve.
Advanced: Rum-Topped Julep
Little-known fact: Back in the day, the American julep was often made with rum. These days, it’s almost exclusively bourbon, but we love the added bonus of a dark rum float, and the drama of a sugar-powdered mint garnish.
Instructions: To a julep cup or rocks glass, add 8 to 10 mint leaves and ¼ ounce of simple syrup. Gently press the mint with a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon. Add another ¼ ounce of simple syrup, along with 2 ounces of bourbon. Pile crushed ice into the glass and form it into a mound. Pour ½ ounce of good dark rum on top (we like Brugal 1888). Dip a mint sprig in powdered sugar—that’s your garnish. Stick a short straw into the glass and serve.